OSR Interested in dipping my toe into OSR but don’t know where to start. Any recommendations?

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Demihumans in pre-2nd Edition D&D always stuck me as a passive agressive way of saying "we give you this option because you're whining, but you're stupid for taking it and really should play human".
I don’t get that vibe from race as class necessarily, but I definitely get it from the level limits that you got once race and class split off from each other.

Personally, what I would love to see in an old school styled game is a situation where your choice of race determines what you roll to determine your abilities. Kind of a reversal of racial ability requirements - instead of being unable to play an elf because you only rolled 7 intelligence, you might choose to play an elf because you want to play a high-intelligence character and elves have a better chance of that.

For example, imagine if humans roll 4d6 drop lowest for each ability (in order), whereas demihumans roll 3d6 for most abilities and 2d6+6 for two of their abilities (also in order). So if you specifically want to play a certain class, picking a race that compliments it will give you a better chance of getting high stats in its prime requisites, at the risk of a greater standard deviation in other abilities. Whereas human becomes the go-to if you don’t have a specific class in mind and just want to play whatever you roll the stats for.
 

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Voadam

Legend
I conceived of the B/X race stuff as fairly biological.

Dwarves and halflings were incapable of doing magic but were more resistant to it with better saves.

Elves were all inherently magical. This is consistent with the monster entry where they all have spells.

All of them can use appropriately sized weapons and armor.

Humans at base are fighters and can also use appropriately sized weapons and armor.

Humans however can specifically dedicate themselves to magic as magic-users or clerics. It is not a natural inherent thing like elves, but something they must actively dedicate themself to.

This puts everyone as normal fighter types except for those humans who specifically dedicate themself to something else.

Thieves are a bit of an oddball from this perspective.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
If you are doing one shot low level D&D or a low level campaign then they are fairly fantastic from a power perspective. An elven fighter magic-user or a BX elf is pretty much mechanically superior in every way to a level 1 magic user for a one shot adventure.

If you are doing a high level one shot game or a game that expects to get to high levels beyond the level caps they become poor choices in a power sense. a 4th or 6th level cap puts you really far behind the expected power curve in a 15th level module with your fellow PCs at 15th level and monsters tuned for that level of challenge and threat.
I also remember reading somewhere (I think it was an excerpt from an article EGG wrote, but I’m not 100% sure) the recommendation of playing a demihuman if you rolled poor stats, because their various built-in traits can help compensate for your stat deficiencies, and the level limits probably won’t matter because the character isn’t likely to live that long anyway 🤣
 

Voadam

Legend
I don’t get that vibe from race as class necessarily, but I definitely get it from the level limits that you got once race and class split off from each other.

Personally, what I would love to see in an old school styled game is a situation where your choice of race determines what you roll to determine your abilities. Kind of a reversal of racial ability requirements - instead of being unable to play an elf because you only rolled 7 intelligence, you might choose to play an elf because you want to play a high-intelligence character and elves have a better chance of that.

For example, imagine if humans roll 4d6 drop lowest for each ability (in order), whereas demihumans roll 3d6 for most abilities and 2d6+6 for two of their abilities (also in order). So if you specifically want to play a certain class, picking a race that compliments it will give you a better chance of getting high stats in its prime requisites, at the risk of a greater standard deviation in other abilities. Whereas human becomes the go-to if you don’t have a specific class in mind and just want to play whatever you roll the stats for.
Palladium Fantasy (basically a variant AD&D with percentile skills for everybody and a parry/dodge system added to combat) did something similar to that with race determining how many dice you got for generating each stat. Play a troll or an Ogre if you want extra dice for generating strength, though they cannot be the mechanically superior martial knight or paladin classes that humans can.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Palladium Fantasy (basically a variant AD&D with percentile skills for everybody and a parry/dodge system added to combat) did something similar to that with race determining how many dice you got for generating each stat. Play a troll or an Ogre if you want extra dice for generating strength, though they cannot be the mechanically superior martial knight or paladin classes that humans can.
Nice! Seems like another one to look at then.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
LOTFP was super hyped and everyone thought it was the kewl thing to have. It offers nothing clever except on spell which has a very long description.
LotFP is a whole package of house rules/tweaks to B/X in addition to high production values.

It tweaks all the character classes for greater niche protection, for example, Fighters being the only class whose attack bonus progresses.

It's the first D&D variant to use a simplified slot based encumbrance system.

It curates the spell lists to make them more suitable for weird fiction and horror. No direct damage spells, as I recall, for example. No resurrection magic. Limited divination magic, so it doesn't solve mysteries for the PCs. Those sorts of things. Not just that one crazy summoning spell. :)

It introduces a simple D6-based skill system building on the misc "x-in-6 chance" abilities/actions found throughout OD&D and B/X, like hearing noises, finding secret doors, breaking down doors, etc.
 
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Voadam

Legend
Nice! Seems like another one to look at then.
I played a bunch of Palladium 1e and Rifts.

There is a ton of cool flavor and options.

Just FYI there is also a lot of imbalance in the system so decisions like race and class and then luck on stats can have a big impact on character power disparity.
 

Aldarc

Legend
A lot of the OSR community, from what I have gleaned, tends to prefer human-only campaigns. This is not to say that they are entirely anti-demihumans, but there is a lot of OSR that presumes either no demihumans or minimal demihumans.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
A lot of the OSR community, from what I have gleaned, tends to prefer human-only campaigns. This is not to say that they are entirely anti-demihumans, but there is a lot of OSR that presumes either no demihumans or minimal demihumans.
And that’s a fine assumption. The whole “my grandpa says he saw dwarves come through town once 50 years ago” thing I mentioned certainly has its appeal. But it isn’t the aspect of old-school play that intrigues me, personally. And it would make trying a more old-school system a much harder sell to my players.
 

Aldarc

Legend
And that’s a fine assumption. The whole “my grandpa says he saw dwarves come through town once 50 years ago” thing I mentioned certainly has its appeal. But it isn’t the aspect of old-school play that intrigues me, personally. And it would make trying a more old-school system a much harder sell to my players.
I enjoy demihumans. That's one reason, FYI, I lean towards Worlds Without Number for that sort of thing. Although humans are the default, there are rules for demihumans, and simple enough rules that it's easy to make custom ones.

But you could also just ignore race/ancestry and declare it an aesthetic that doesn't really impact play.
 

payn

Legend
And that’s a fine assumption. The whole “my grandpa says he saw dwarves come through town once 50 years ago” thing I mentioned certainly has its appeal. But it isn’t the aspect of old-school play that intrigues me, personally. And it would make trying a more old-school system a much harder sell to my players.
Perhaps you have already explained the aspects of old school you are after, but could you expand on it again? Might help narrow the list of games more.
 

Voadam

Legend
Just for reference here are the core Palladium racial options and stat information
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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Palladium is such a hilarious heartbreaker. I have fond memories of Teenage Mutant Turtles and Other Strangeness, and I still have copies of Rifts and of Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes [edit, sorry!] Ninjas & Superspies, but I'd never want to try playing that system again. I did try out a Savage Worlds conversion of Rifts at one point though, and that was a lot of fun.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Perhaps you have already explained the aspects of old school you are after, but could you expand on it again? Might help narrow the list of games more.
The biggest ones are the ones I mention in the first post: exploration-focused play, potential for open-table/troupe play, emphasis on player skill, resource management as major element of challenge… Basically the design elements that fell by the wayside as D&D evolved that the OSR movement re-examined and realized made a lot more sense in the context they were designed for, which sort of got lost over the years.
 


Parmandur

Book-Friend
The thing is that OSR tends to be split between Retroclone OSR and Philosophical OSR. OSR started out as people who wanted to keep playing D&D as they were used to from the TSR era. They realized that they could reprint their own versions, which became "OSR as retroclone." Somehow in the OSR community, B/X (almost overwhelmingly) became the prevailing edition of choice, over against OD&D, 1e D&D, and 2e D&D. OSE is straight-up B/X retroclone, even going as far as converting AD&D to B/X.

However, in the process of articulating and advocating for why people would want to play the older versions of D&D, "OSR as game principles" emerged. I think that Black Hack falls more into the "OSR as game principles" camp. Ben Milton (aka Questing Beast) tends to also fall more into this camp as well. This camp tends to make more radical changes to the base game: e.g., Electric Bastionland, Maze Rats, Black Hack, Mörk Borg, etc. This means you more likely to see things like Black Hack's Usage Die here.
That's a valuable distinction. That "OSR as Principles" movement, as seen in stuff like DCC, had a pretty big impact on 5E's development, too.
 

deganawida

Adventurer
Palladium is such a hilarious heartbreaker. I have fond memories of Teenage Mutant Turtles and Other Strangeness, and I still have copies of Rifts and of Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes, but I'd never want to try playing that system again. I did try out a Savage Worlds conversion of Rifts at one point though, and that was a lot of fun.
TMNT was my first RPG. Parents wouldn't let me play D&D. Never played Palladium Fantasy, but picked up 1e revised on my best friend's recommendation and liked it. Forgot all the strikes, parries, dodges, and such. Makes combat more cinematic but also more complicated (not necessarily a problem, depending upon group).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
That's a valuable distinction. That "OSR as Principles" movement, as seen in stuff like DCC, had a pretty big impact on 5E's development, too.
Yeah, I’m at an interesting crossroads, because the principles are what I’m interested in more than the specific mechanics and design quirks… But also I really like the aesthetic of D&D, and I feel like that often gets lost when focusing on principles over specific mechanics.
 

Voadam

Legend
Palladium is such a hilarious heartbreaker. I have fond memories of Teenage Mutant Turtles and Other Strangeness, and I still have copies of Rifts and of Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes, but I'd never want to try playing that system again. I did try out a Savage Worlds conversion of Rifts at one point though, and that was a lot of fun.
Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes is a Tunnels & Trolls spinoff, do you mean Ninjas & Superspies from Palladium with its fantastic listing of real world martial arts styles?
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Dwarves, elves, and halflings as a class really only make some amount of sense in the context of an introductory beginners game. It's easier to get new people actually playing quickly.
When BECMI became its own game line, continuing with that really did get weird.
Amusingly, the original Holmes Basic set, the only one which was purely an introductory beginners' game, still had separate race & class, as it was an adaptation of OD&D, in which they were originally separate (although demihumans didn't have a lot of options).

Race as class was first introduced in the 1981 Moldvay Basic & Cook Expert, then continued in 1983's Mentzer BECM series. Apparently part of the intent was indeed to be simpler for new young players, but part of it was also that B/X was prompted by one of the Arneson lawsuits over royalties on AD&D 1E, and TSR wanted to make the "Dungeons & Dragons" game more distinct from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

I assume it stemmed from the intended milieu. The assumed setting was one focused primarily on humans, living in human lands, interacting with other humans. Most people would never meet a demihuman, but maybe you’d have a cousin who swears he saw an elf in the woods once, or a grandpa who everyone loves to hear tell the story of the time a company of dwarves passed through the village when he was a young boy. In that context, the demihumans a PC is likely to encounter are disproportionately likely to be adventurers, and there’s not a whole lot of need to model much variety in their culture.

Of course, naturally this isn’t going to be the sort of milieu every group wants to play in (and with the benefit of hindsight we can see that more cosmopolitan milieus tend to be more popular), so it seems only natural that demand for a race/class divide would emerge before long.
Right, I think this is the approach most people who enjoy race as class take. The idea is that demi-humans are DIFFERENT. They operate by different rules and don't do all the same stuff humans do, and this mechanizes part of the setting. I'm generally a fan of this approach, though I still enjoy games that have them separate.

Given the ease of designing racial classes in the B/X framework, you can also flesh them out with more options if you want to. Adventurer, Conqueror, King takes this approach in building on B/X, giving demihumans more options without making them the same as the human classes.

If you are doing one shot low level D&D or a low level campaign then they are fairly fantastic from a power perspective. An elven fighter magic-user or a BX elf is pretty much mechanically superior in every way to a level 1 magic user for a one shot adventure.

If you are doing a high level one shot game or a game that expects to get to high levels beyond the level caps they become poor choices in a power sense. a 4th or 6th level cap puts you really far behind the expected power curve in a 15th level module with your fellow PCs at 15th level and monsters tuned for that level of challenge and threat.
Thankfully the level caps are significantly higher in B/X than they are in OD&D. In B/X Halflings cap out the lowest at 8th, Elves at 10th and Dwarves at 12th, which isn't too bad when the max level in the game is 14th.

Definitely one thing I think is neat about the racial classes in B/X is just being able to have elves pay more xp for being a straight up fighter/mage with some extra abilities. Elves ARE badass. But taking the same amount of xp to hit 2nd level as the Fighter needs to hit 3rd is a cost. My most successful OSE character from my online play during the pandemic has been a Half Elf from advanced OSE. He has notably inferior spellcasting compared to a full Elf, but advances faster. There are multiple times I've rued that (and not having the immunity to ghoul paralysis!), but OTOH, there have also been multiple encounters where I would have died if I was lower level, due to having fewer HP.

If you're doing a one-shot with characters starting above 1st level in pre-WotC editions, you always want to specify the number of xp rather than the level for characters to be generated. If you specify 20,000, for example, your Magic Users will be 5th level, but your Elves will still be 4th.

I don’t get that vibe from race as class necessarily, but I definitely get it from the level limits that you got once race and class split off from each other.

Personally, what I would love to see in an old school styled game is a situation where your choice of race determines what you roll to determine your abilities. Kind of a reversal of racial ability requirements - instead of being unable to play an elf because you only rolled 7 intelligence, you might choose to play an elf because you want to play a high-intelligence character and elves have a better chance of that.

For example, imagine if humans roll 4d6 drop lowest for each ability (in order), whereas demihumans roll 3d6 for most abilities and 2d6+6 for two of their abilities (also in order). So if you specifically want to play a certain class, picking a race that compliments it will give you a better chance of getting high stats in its prime requisites, at the risk of a greater standard deviation in other abilities. Whereas human becomes the go-to if you don’t have a specific class in mind and just want to play whatever you roll the stats for.
5 Torches Deep does this. If you're human it has you roll 3d6 in order, but you can swap two. Demi-humans get a fixed above-average value for their main ability scores, and roll others on 2d6+3.
 

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